346. Robert Southey to John May, 2 September [1798]

346. Robert Southey to John May, 2 September [1798] ⁠* 


My dear friend

I have been long silent. we are with Thomas, & in rambling about this country much time has been employed.

You ask me my opinion how a Lawyer should act. they tell me he should undertake any cause, because if he refuses to be the advocate he makes himself the judge. my dear friend this may be true – but I never go to my head for an answer when my heart is ready with one. certainly I would not plead in a bad cause. I feel it would be wrong. I have no love for the profession – but I have a strong & honourable love of independance, & would labour for it. Sometimes I think I have mistaken the road. of all modes of life that of a clergyman would best suit my habits & feelings. I should have been happy & useful in the church had my creed permitted it. were I again at liberty to chuse my way of life I should not hesitate at becoming a dissenting minister. Ambition I have none; & a little satisfies me. I want nothing but independance & leisure for my favourite studies. these the law will I hope afford me, & that not at too late a period. I should have been more useful as a minister & better satisfied.

Who do you think is in London of all men – but Leopold Berchtold [1]  – ! Bedford has seen him, he expressed his satisfaction at what I had said of him, & gave Bedford his book upon the plague for me. [2]  he will remain some months longer in London, & very much do I regret my absence. I wish you knew him – & that he knew the garden scheme, & your plan for the beggars, [3]  they would delight him, & he might perhaps xx set them on foot in other countries.

I have procured access to the Cathedral Library here. [4]  it does not contain many books, but I find enough to employ me busily & agreably for six hours every morning – that is from Friday last till Wednesday next when we depart from hence. in the course of ten or twelve days we shall reach home, & I shall be glad to return to regularity. I love to write at my own desk – to see my books by me, & to look every evening from the same window at the setting sun. On my return I shall begin your book. [5]  as I am about to publish enough with the Vision of the Maid to make a volume, [6]  of course none of those pieces will be included. but I have many besides – wholes in themselves, the parts only of a greater plan which will be long in hand. it is called the Kalendar, & the name will almost explain its nature, which resembles that of Ovids Fasti tho greatly improved. [7]  I shall take the natural history of the year as I proceed, & instead of confining myself to the church holydays, select from history & the annals & festivals of all countrys whatever appears fit for poetry. already I have some 1500 lines written. my metres vary with my subjects. the work will fill at least two volumes the small size, for the notes must be extensive. & I think it will be popular & useful.

I shall have much of Madoc to show you in November – as on my return I shall certainly resume my early rising, & early employment. the plan is now compleat, & is I think very fine. [8] 

I write by candle light, & to mend a pen by candle light is a task I cannot well undertake. Edith is tolerably well, & has learnt to ride in Herefordshire. We have no letters from Lisbon, at which I am surprized. it is now three months since my Uncle has written to me: & his letters are always short & unsatisfactory.

Lord Bridport has sent for Tom to his ship, but his own Captain has desired to keep him awhile as he is in want of midshipmen.

God bless you –

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

September 2. <a memorable day – for the French massacres. the fire of London & the battle of Actium.> [9] 


* Address: To/ John May Esqr/ 4. Bedford Square/ London/ Single
Postmark: SE/ 4/ 98
Watermark: [first part obscured by seal trace]/ 1796
Endorsement: 1798 No. 23./ Robert Southey/ Hereford 2 September/ recd: 4 do/ ansd: 17 do
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 36–37. BACK

[1] Leopold, Graf von Berchtold (1759–1809), Austrian philanthropist. BACK

[2] Leopold, Graf von Berchtold, Nachtrict von dem im St Antons-Spitale in Smirna mit dem allerbesten Erfolg gebrauchten einfachen Mittel (1797). BACK

[3] The ‘garden scheme’ was a convalescent home to assist the poor after their discharge from hospital; see Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [25 March] 1798, Letter 298; for the scheme to assist the indigent see Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 3 August 1798, Letter 340. BACK

[4] Southey’s uncle, Herbert Hill, was Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral and responsible for the Library. BACK

[5] Unidentified; possibly a manuscript book of poems and/or other writings Southey was compiling for John May. BACK

[6] Poems (1799). BACK

[7] The ‘Kalendar’, a sequence modelled on Ovid’s (43 BC–AD 17) Fasti, was never completed. BACK

[8] By this time Southey had written at least four books of Madoc (1797–1799). BACK

[9] The anniversary of the start of the ‘September massacres’ in Paris, 1792; the Great Fire of London, 1666; and the battle of Actium, 31 BC. BACK